Journey to Duke Fuqua: Marine-Turned-MBA, Entrepreneur, and Dad
Learn how real students navigate their way through the business school admissions process and b-school itself with our What is Business School Really Like? series.
Meet Andrew, a Marine veteran, entrepreneur, new father, and first-year MBA student at Duke Fuqua.
Andrew, thank you for sharing your story with us!
What made you decide to go to business school?
Andrew: Leaving the Marines I knew that in order to be hired into mid-level management positions, an MBA would be a good route for me to take.
How did you decide which programs to apply to? Were you willing to relocate to attend school?
Andrew: I only applied to Fuqua. I loved my experience so much that I put everything I had into being accepted. In theory, I would have relocated but I am local to Raleigh so relocating wasn’t my first choice.
Applying to only a single business school shows real dedication. What was your level of familiarity with Fuqua prior to applying? How did you know it would be a good fit?
Andrew: I visited Fuqua several times before applying, and I found everyone to be very open and welcoming. I was especially drawn to its veteran community. It didn’t take long for me to realize that Fuqua was where I wanted to be, and I decided that making a full commitment to Duke gave me the best chance to have success with its rigorous and competitive application process. My family and some of my friends thought I was a little crazy for applying only to Duke, but it was a risk I was willing to take, and I’m gratified it’s worked out so well.
Did you experience any bumps along the road to business school admission? How did you identify and deal with the issues?
Andrew: The experience in general is extremely stressful. I reached out to current students and alumni in order to get insight and help.
What about extracurriculars? What extracurricular activities did you participate in either in the military or your civilian life?
Andrew: I worked with a nonprofit organization called Warrior Wellness Solutions from 2013-2018. WWS is based in Durham and offers holistic health solutions to American military veterans who are wounded, ill, or injured. I’ve worked as a peer mentor and in event planning and fundraising. Working with the veteran community has been and continues to be a tremendously rewarding experience.
Duke is known to have some creative (and tricky!) application essay questions. How did you approach your essays? How, specifically, did you approach the 25 Random Things About You question?
Andrew: With my essays, I tried to caveat my experiences as an entrepreneur and Marine into a relatable experience with the culture at Fuqua. I took specific experiences I had and explained the lessons learned and how I would translate those lessons to better the Fuqua community I wanted to belong to. The essays are your chance to show a side of yourself outside of your resume. My 25 things essays highlighted highs, lows, growth, and experiences. I really tried to show the admissions team my true self outside of my resume.
Once business school began, what surprised you most about the experience?
Andrew: How thoughtful and friendly my classmates are. I wasn’t able to attend many social events because my wife was 8½ months pregnant. My section mates understood this and surprised me with signed books and baby gifts for my daughter. It was very touching and a huge surprise.
Congratulations on the birth of your daughter! How do you manage to juggle your roles as student, husband, and father?
Andrew: It was hard, especially at first, but I learned that Team Fuqua is for real. My classmates and first-year team really kept me afloat for the first few months after my daughter was born. They actually stopped class to surprise me with baby gifts. They bought us a mamaRoo bassinet and onesie pajamas, and my entire 76 student section signed books and left notes for my daughter. When I was struggling to keep up from lack of sleep, some of them took the time to help me in subjects within their areas of expertise, and they made sure I grasped the material well enough to pass my classes. It reminded me a lot of the Marines – the fact that it takes a team effort to achieve objectives. As for outside of the classroom, I put my duties as a father and a husband first. Things have gotten a little easier now that our daughter is older, and my wife and I have even found time to go out socially every once in a while.
How have your experiences and duties in the Marines prepared you for business school and for the world of business?
Andrew: Serving as a sergeant in the Marines taught me several things, including the value of teamwork and the importance of leadership skills. It also helped me develop the kind of work ethic that kept me going while attending school fulltime and working in my family’s entrepreneurial startup. Marines are taught to accomplish their mission no matter what roadblocks they may encounter, and even to make something out of nothing if that’s what it takes. I’m learning to apply those lessons in the business world and to share them with friends and classmates whenever it seems appropriate.
What is Juicekeys and what role have you played in the company?
Andrew: Juicekeys is an entrepreneurial startup created by my wife Kelly and her brother Chris. Kelly became interested in the power of healthy foods when she was transitioning from a career-ending gymnastics injury years ago. Like me, Chris is a former Marine, and he was exposed to many different juice bars when he was stationed in California. After he left active duty, he completed his MBA at USC Marshall and brought the vision of Juicekeys to Raleigh. It had very humble beginnings, with an original staff of only Kelly, Chris, and their parents.
In three years, we have grown from one to three locations and we now have more than 45 employees. I started at Juicekeys in a managerial position and later became the director of operations. It’s pretty much a jack-of-all-trades job that includes leadership development, supply chain, customer relations, and whatever else might be needed at a particular moment.
How did your civilian experiences in entrepreneurship make you a stronger MBA applicant?
Andrew: This is a great question! When people tell me they want to be an entrepreneur, I usually give them the Southern response of “Bless your heart.” Being part of a startup isn’t for everyone. I know what it’s like working 20-hour days and taking no pay in the hope of growing a business into a successful venture. And we’ve been able to create what I and others think is the best juice bar in North Carolina. I’m confident that the things I’ve learned at Juicekeys, and also in the Marines, will help me as a mid-level or senior executive in a company that values people with a Fuqua MBA.
What do you think your classmates would be surprised to know about you?
Andrew: I am a complete teddy bear. The Notebook is one of my favorite movies. I told my wife on our second date I was going to marry her. She told me I was “crazy.” I laughed and said “You’re probably right, but I am going to marry you.” When I proposed to my wife I got in touch with Nicholas Sparks and had him sign her favorite book with the inscription “Kelly will you marry Andrew, with love Nicholas Sparks.” This December will be five years that we have been together.
Did you grow up in the South, and if not, how do you have ties to the area? How has Duke’s location affected your business school experience?
Andrew: I grew up in Chicago and Southern California. My wife’s family is from Raleigh. I love the area and think Durham is a great place to live.
Was it difficult to become a student again after years spent away from the classroom?
Andrew: I’m actually in my fifth year of school at this point. I started my undergraduate degree in 2014 while I was transitioning out of the Marines. It was discouraging at first because after taking placement exams at the local community college I had to start with developmental courses. My math score, for example, was around the eighth-grade level. I graduated from Campbell University with a 3.92 GPA in 2018 and started at Fuqua last August. It was definitely hard at times, but I had an amazing support system to give me a reality check when I needed it.
Fuqua has definitely been the most difficult coursework I have personally experienced. The great thing is you’re always around amazing people who are extremely talented. So it is easy to push yourself in order to match the output of your peers. Working in teams has also been a huge help because more often than not one of us has experience in the subjects we may be covering and can help the group to understand better.
Have you participated in a student internship?
Andrew: I will be starting an internship in project management at Cisco this summer. I will be working on global strategy, planning, and operations. Cisco is a great company and it’s high on my list of places I’d like to work within the tech industry. I’m grateful for the opportunity and can’t wait to get started.
Why did you decide to pursue an MBA as opposed to one of the many related graduate degrees that seem to be gaining popularity in recent years (Master’s in Finance, Master’s in Management, Master’s in Data Analytics, etc.)?
Andrew: An MBA from Fuqua holds a lot of weight. We have world-class professors that teach every one of these subjects. For example, I could choose to major in Finance and Decision Sciences. In my opinion, not all MBAs are created equal. In my opinion, Fuqua is the best MBA program in the United States. We are truly a community that looks after one another.
What are your plans, post-MBA?
Andrew: I’d like to work in the technology industry in project or product management, with a backup plan of doing tech sales. The decision sciences, marketing, and strategy classes I’ve attended at Fuqua have been priceless in helping me prepare to accomplish that goal.
What advice do you have for students beginning their MBA journey?
Andrew: I would say be genuine, be intentional, be yourself, ask for help, and build relationships. I would not be at Fuqua if I didn’t have advocates in the form of admissions staff, current students, the Duke Armed Forces Association, and alumnus. I wanted to be at Fuqua more than any other school, so I really put myself out there with admissions. I sent updates on my progress and stayed in touch with staff. When the time came to choose candidates for acceptance there was no doubt how committed I was to coming to Fuqua.
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